‘Outrageous’ new rules leave drone flyers with nowhere to go

Hobbyists must follow a series of restrictive new regulations

Caleb (left) and Stefan Tam say new regulations may rob them of their favourite hobby — drone flying.

Caleb (left) and Stefan Tam say new regulations may rob them of their favourite hobby — drone flying.

New rules have grounded a family’s favourite hobby, as Abbotsford has been deemed a no drone zone.

“They’re outrageous,” said Stefan Tam of regulations announced by Transport Canada earlier this month which greatly restrict the use of amateur drones.

Tam said he has taken great pleasure in flying drones (he owns four) with his children over the last six years.

“I can’t afford to rent a helicopter or small aircraft and zoom around Abbotsford and take it all in,” he said. “But I can simulate flying up and down the Fraser River because I can video it as my drone goes up and down.”

Drones may not fly within nine kilometres of an airport or helicopter pad. With Abbotsford International Airport and Abbotsford Regional Hospital’s helipad, this rule puts most of the city in a no-fly zone.

Drones can’t fly higher than 90 metres above the ground, and must stay within 500 metres of its operator.

And when you factor in rules against flying within 75 metres of buildings, vehicles, animals and people, “there’s nowhere you can go,” according to Tam.

Transport Canada says the regulations address safety concerns for people and animals.

“Over the past four years, there has been a substantial increase in the number of drones flying near wildfires putting the safety of pilots, firefighters and the public at considerable risk,” said Steve Thompson, B.C.’s minister of forest, lands and natural resources.

Both Tam and his teenage son, Caleb, agree some regulations are warranted but say they already employ common sense to fly their drones safely and responsibly.

“We keep it where we know we can control it; we don’t fly super high, so we don’t know where it is; we keep it within a range that we know is good enough to fly yet it challenges us just enough so we can get better and better,” Caleb said.

Tam has also used his drones to help survey property for sale and inspect the roofs of greenhouses.

Under the new rules, he may apply for a Special Flight Operations Certificate (SFOC), a one-day licence that would allow him to use a drone for commercial purposes.

He would have to send an application to Transport Canada, detailing when, where and why he plans to use his drone for commerical use and explaining how he will deal with safety risks.

SFOC applications are dealt with on a first-come-first-serve basis and will generally be processed within 20 days, according to Transport Canada’s site.

An SFOC must be granted for each use, unless Transport Canada has granted an operator a “blanket SFOC” allowing them to fly their drone for commercial uses. The licensing process can cost from $200 to $500.

But the Tams’ main use of the drone – for fun – may have to sacrificed altogether.

Caleb said he was “bummed” that the new rules restrict the hobby he shares with his dad so much.

“I was flying for fun and now we can’t do that because of all the rules against it,” Caleb said.

The Tams say they hope to find a location where they can continue flying their drones.

– with files from Ashley Wadhwani, Black Press

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